Friday, December 03, 2021

Now what with SB8?

As Gerard and I wrote, it is not clear why the Court took the SB8 cases, much less on an expedited schedule, or why they would bother deciding them now.

New and deeply cynical take, courtesy of my co-author: The Court overrules Roe and holds in SB8 that states cannot insulate laws from offensive constitutional challenges, allowing claims against clerks, judges, or whomever. Note where that leaves us. The fetal-heartbeat law is likely valid (depending on how much the Court overrules Roe--whether rejecting viability as a line or eliminating all constitutional protection for reproductive freedom), so no harm in allowing those offensive cases to proceed in federal court, as they fail on the merits. But the Court protects the rights the majority cares about--guns, religious freedom--from similar laws channeling constitutional litigation onto defense.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 3, 2021 at 11:27 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0)

JOTWELL: Bookman on Summers on eviction court

The new Courts Law essay comes from Pamela Bookman (Fordam) reviewing Nicole Summers, Civil Probation, on the absurd procedure in eviction court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 3, 2021 at 11:04 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

I say obnoxious things so I have standing

A Connecticut law prohibits ridiculing or holding people or groups up to contempt on account of creed, religion, color, etc. Although the law is limited to advertisements, it has been applied in other situations. Eugene Volokh explains why the law violates the First Amendment. One infamous recent case occurred in late 2019/early 2020, when two U Conn students were prosecuted for shouting racial epithets in the air; that charge was dismissed. The attorney for one of those students, Mario Cerame, filed suit last month, asking the court to declare the law violates the First Amendment.

How does Cerame have standing for this offensive pre-enforcement suit? A plaintiff must show that he intends to engage in constitutionally protected conduct that is proscribed by law and that there is a credible threat of enforcement against the plaintiff. Check out ¶¶ 13-18: Cerame alleges that he regularly ridicules Italian-Americans (he is Italian-American), Scientologists, and other racial or religious groups, and he retells jokes and shares video clips of comedians. He also alleges that he speaks, trains, and works on free-speech issues and and in doing so "uses words that are not uttered in polite company."  In other words, "I like to say obnoxious things in my personal and professional life, therefore I reasonably fear prosecution under the law."

This is an interesting theory, although I am not sure it works. "I like to do X, have done X in the past, and plan on doing X in general terms at some indefinite point in the future" is usually not sufficiently specific or concrete. Much of the obnoxious speech he describes occurs in his personal life or with his "closest and dearest friends," so is unlikely to be prosecuted. He may have a better shot with the argument that his professional free-speech work has him using the bad words involved in free-speech controversies. A few district courts have accepted this standing theory in challenges to new anti-harassment/anti-discrimination bar rules. The theory makes sense with a  bar rule--"I use these words in my work and am worried that the Bar may come after me;" it seems less of a credible gthreat that the government would pursue criminal charges against a lawyer for his professional work. Courts are forgiving of standing in First Amendment cases, but I do not know if it goes that far.

Cerame has never had the law enforced against him despite past ridicule of Italian Scientologists and posting of Dave Chappelle videos, which pulls him out of SBA. The next question is whether the pattern of charges being brought against others shows that Cerame's is the type of speech targeted; Eugene has written about recent enforcement. The one I know about is that UConn case--two students shouting racist epithets in the middle of campus (not at any person), where they were heard by people in surrounding buildings--which seems far afield from Cerame's speech. That the charges in the UConn case were dismissed raises an interesting question of what we mean by credible threat of enforcement for standing purposes. Does "enforcement" mean arrested or charges brought or does it mean prosecution? If charges are brought and dropped, has the law been "enforced" as to make future enforcement substantially likely?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 3, 2021 at 07:11 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 29, 2021

Still no SB8

Weird. With each passing day, the logic of cert before judgment (which required four votes) and expedited review (which required five, I believe) fades. It makes no sense to rush the case, then decide it in the ordinary stream of the Term.

New cynical take: The Court releases the decision on Wednesday morning, prior to the Dobbs argument, allowing WWH to proceed. That "victory" for reproductive freedom pulls public attention off Dobbs, which will contain numerous hints that Roe/Casey are not long for this jurisprudential world.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 29, 2021 at 10:30 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Procedural defects can be raised in state court

SB8 critics highlight the procedural problems in the private cause of action--statewide venue, limitless plaintiffs, limits on affirmative defenses, no non-mutual preclusion. They argue that these render state court an insufficient forum, because the deck is stacked in favor of the plaintiff, requiring a federal offensive litigation.

One problem with the argument is that it constitutionalizes sub-constitutional issues such as venue and preclusion. A second problem is that this is not unusual. Many state-court cases involve constitutional challenges to state-court procedures, which are litigated in state court and can provide a basis for eventual SCOTUS review. The defect in state procedure does not provide a basis for a constitutional claim or federal district-court jurisdiction in the underlying action.

Recent case in point: Third Circuit in DeGennaro v. Grabelle. This is a med-mal action in which plaintiff failed to comply with the state's pre-suit affidavit requirement, which plaintiff argues (erroneously) violates due process. Plaintiff tried to use this to get his claim into federal court by including a claim challenging the validity of the affidavit requirement. The court (properly) rejected this under the Well Pleaded Complaint Rule--this case is no different than Mottley (state claim, defense, constitutional challenge to defense). The plaintiff can challenge the affidavit requirement in state court, then appeal the requirement through the New Jersey courts and to SCOTUS.

No one would let DeGennaro bring a § 1983 action against the clerk of the state court, since he would accept the lawsuit requiring an affidavit, or against the  state judge for demanding the affidavit. But the logic of the (anticipated) decision in the SB8 cases is that constitutional defects in state procedure--those that stack the deck in favor of one private civil litigant against another private civil litigant--provide a basis to sue a state clerk or state judge to prohibit state litigation. Other than which party the deck is stacked against--it is against the defense in SB8, the plaintiff in this (and most) cases--the basic issues and arguments are the same.

I am repeating myself on this. But the point bears repeating--most of what people dislike about SB8 is not unique.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 23, 2021 at 10:10 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 19, 2021

The Times plays defense and no one cares

Apropos of my post on the obviously First-Amendment-violative injunction the state trial court issued against The New York Times: No one has argued that The Times should be able to bring a federal action against Judge Wood to enjoin him from holding that hearing on the OSC or from further adjudicating the case. No one has argued that The Times can sue the clerk of the Supreme Court Court of the State of New York, County of Westchester to stop him from docketing the order or accepting further papers from PV in pursuing this case. It appears sufficient--for First Amendment, due process, and "judicial review" purposes--that The Times can defend in state court, appeal through state court, and reach SCOTUS if necessary. No one has argued that allowing PV to bring this private suit and to make The Times defend in state court "thwarts federal judicial review" of a significant constitutional issue.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 19, 2021 at 09:38 AM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (11)

The puzzle of prior restraint

"Prior restraint" is trending today following a New York trial court's show-cause order to The New York Times. The court ordered the paper to show cause why it should not be required to remove and cease publishing certain document from Project Veritas (which allegedly contain attorney-client-privileged material), not publish such documents in the future, and cease efforts to obtain further documents. And it orderied The Times to cease those activities pending a hearing on the OSC.

The "prior restraint doctrine" distinguishes "prior restraint" from "post-publication punishment." A prior restraint is a law or order that prohibits speech before it occurs and requires a speaker to obtain government permission before speaking--e.g., a licensing or permitting system or, as here, an injunction barring future speech. A post-publication punishment identifies some speech as unlawful, but functions through through the mechanism of sanction or punishment after the speech has occurred--e.g., criminal penalties for burning a flag or fines for displaying an off-premises sign. The distinction originates in the Blackstonian conception of free speech (which, depending on who you believe, may have been incorporated as the original understanding of the First Amendment), which held that prior restraints are impermissible but that the government has unfettered power to punish the speech after the fact. The distinction survives under the modern First Amendment further along the spectrum--government generally cannot punish speech after the fact and it really generally cannot impose prior restraints.

While a cornerstone of modern free expression, the distinction is somewhat artificial. From the speaker's standpoint, there is no distinction between an agency saying "you must get permission before burning a flag and we hereby deny you permission" and a statute saying "you will go to jail if you burn a flag"--the result is that I am not allowed to burn a flag. From the speaker's standpoint, a law threatening jail time for engaging in speech "restrains" my speech "prior" to it occurring--I will not speak if I know I will be sanctioned. And all restrictions on speech, however characterized, are enforced through post-speech punishment. If I fail to obtain permission (whether because I do not bother trying or because I am denied permission) and I speak anyway, the sanction (jail, fines, whatever) will not come until after I speak without a license. If I am enjoined and I speak anyway, the sanction will be contempt after I speak, enforced through jail, fines, and other fun.

The prior-restraint doctrine purports to limit unfettered discretion in licensing. But no one has more unfettered discretion than a police officer deciding whether to stop me from speaking or waving my sign in the moment or a prosecutor deciding whether to prosecute me. That is, a system requiring a permit (e.g., to hold a protest) cannot grant the officials running the system unfettered, before considering the protected nature of the speech for which the permit was sought; the First Amendment does not care about police having unfettered discretion once the person is holding a protest and the challenge to the arrest or prosecution would consider the protected nature of the speech involved.

Moreover, if a judge ultimately must decide whether some speech is protected and publishable, it strange to distinguish between the judge making that decision pre-speech and post-speech.* Consider the Times/Project Veritas dispute. The case turns on whether The Times obtained PV's documents lawfully (which appears to be the case) and whether stopping a third-party from disclosing attorney-client-protected material is a need of the highest order (which probably is not the case, unless the privacy interests in attorney-client communications somehow are more important than the privacy interests of a sexual-assault victim). There is no obvious distinction between the court deciding that now and stopping the speech and further search for documents and the court deciding that later and imposing damages for the speech and the search for documents. In theory the former is worse because we lose the benefit of the speech getting "out there" and contributing to the market in the interim. But imagine that The Times had conspired with the leaker to obtain the documents--it would refrain from publishing knowing that the court will impose damages or another sanction on it at the end of the day. Or take a defamation case. Is it worse for a court to prohibit X from publishing defamatory statements about A than imposing damages for X's defamatory statements after he published them?**

[*] Or, to add a third layer--pre-speech in an offensive action by the newspaper challenging the permitting law.

[**] Beyond the point of this post, but there may be a distinction between an interim or preliminary judicial determination and a final judicial determination following trial. That is, a court can issue a preliminary injunction, stopping speech off a preliminary or initial review of the merits; a court imposes post-publication punishment following a full hearing on the merits. Eugene Volokh has urged this line with respect to defamation injunctions--a court can prohibit X from speaking about A going forward, but only after a full proceeding determining that what X wants to say is defamatory.

There is one possible distinction, at least with injunctions. If I am denied a permit, I can speak anyway and in the subsequent enforcement proceeding I can challenge the permitting system and the decision to deny the permit, in addition to arguing that my speech was protected. If I am enjoined, the collateral-bar rule holds that I cannot speak or publish in violation of the injunction and challenge the contempt order by arguing that the injunction is invalid or should not have been entered; I must comply with the injunction and appeal it.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 19, 2021 at 09:22 AM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 18, 2021

JOTWELL: Michalski on Burch & Williams on voices of MDL

The new Courts Law essay comes from Roger Michalski (Oklahoma) reviewing Elizabeth Chamblee Burch & Margaret Williams, Perceptions of Multidistrict Litigation: Voices from the Crowd, ___ Cornell L. Rev. (forthcoming 2022), a study of individual MDL plaintiffs and their views of the process.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 18, 2021 at 03:49 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Points of departure on SB8

As we await the SB8 decisions,* I want to respond to Ilya Somin's "final word" on the case.  Here is his conclusion:

[*] A few people have pointed out that recent time-crunched merits questions (e.g., census) have come down within 18-19 days from argument, which could make Friday a good target.

And, here, judicial review is an extremely effective tool, particularly in cases where effective enforcement simply requires striking down a law or regulation and barring state officials from enforcing those policies. In the case of SB 8, that means preventing state courts from hearing SB 8 cases that violate the Constitution and enforcing judgments that plaintiffs might win in such cases. States must not be allowed to forestall effective judicial review in such cases by exploiting loopholes in procedural doctrines. If the only way to prevent that is to close those loopholes by limiting the scope of some procedural precedents, then that is a small price to pay for vindicating much more important constitutional principles.

I expect the Court to adopt this reasoning, and perhaps this language, in allowing WWH's injunctive action to proceed. Ilya's argument (and the argument II believe the Court will adopt) rests on four principles: 1) "Effective judicial review" means offensive litigation in federal district court, such that a law that pushes constitutional litigation into a defensive posture "forestalls" effective review; 2) "Striking down a law" is a meaningful judicial remedy; 3) the court can "bar[] state officials from enforcing" an invalid law as a global matter, as opposed to granting rights-holder-specific remedies; 4) the bringing of SB8 cases, as opposed to imposition of liability in those cases, violate the Constitution.

I disagree with each of these principles and therefore with Ilya's conclusion about SB8. There is effective judicial review of the heartbeat ban--providers can raise constitutional invalidity as a defense in state court before state judges bound by the Supremacy Clause and SCOTUS precedent, with SCOTUS review at the end of the process. It is not the ideal forum or the forum that providers and other SB8 defendants would choose, but that is not the same as saying that requiring defensive litigation independently violates due process or that it is constitutionally deficient. SCOTUS has established significant precedent, including precedent about the constitutional validity of certain laws, through defensive litigation, including private civil litigation that originated in state court. SB8 does not differ from these prior cases, from a future defamation suit against constitutionally protected speech, or from a future damages lawsuit against Jack Phillips.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 17, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Standing problems in UF prof lawsuit

Despite UF backing down, the three professors filed suit Friday, seeking to enjoin as violative of the First Amendment "any policy or practice that provides the Univerity discretion to limit Plaintiffs' ability to undertake outside activities, on a paid or unpaid basis, on the ground that the proposed activity is not aligned with the “interests” of the State of Florida or any of its entities or instrumentalities."

Standing is a problem here. The plaintiffs got the relief they are suing for--permission to testify in the case and be paid for it--so they are not suffering an ongoing injury traceable to university policy or practices (or, in my preferred framing, their rights are not presently being violated). They try to get standing through Susan B. Anthony List, where the Court held a plaintiff can establish standing for a future injury where she intends to engage in arguably constitutionally protected activity that is proscribed by the challenged law and there is a credible threat of future enforcement. Consider ¶ 43 of the complaint:

Unless and until it is rescinded or declared unconstitutional to the extent it equates the University’s “interest” with that of the State, the University’s Policy will continue to impede Plaintiffs from serving as expert witnesses or otherwise lending their analysis or expertise to litigation challenging State policies, in violation of the First Amendment.

As pleaded, that does not work. It is framed as if the existence of the policy without a declaration of its invalidity is a unique ongoing or future injury, which it is not. A declaratory judgment requires standing beyond "this policy is in place and will impede us." They need more, but I am not sure if or how they show a likely future injury. They can allege that they regularly testify as experts, including against the state; they will need to request permission; and they risk being denied in a future case because of the anti-state positions they wish to take and the university's discretion. And courts are forgiving of standing in First Amendment cases.

The problem for the plaintiffs is that this is not the typical First Amendment case. In the typical free-speech case, standing is based on the plaintiff's unilateral intended actions ("I want to handbill;" "I want to make possibly false statements about a political candidate") and the obvious presumption that the government will enforce its laws against violators (arresting the handbiller or charging the false statements). Here, standing depends on actions of others. Five things must happen--the state must future rights-infringing laws; those laws must touch on subjects on which the plaintiffs possess expertise; someone must challenge those laws in court; those plaintiffs must need expert witnesses; and plaintiffs must seek to hire these profs as experts. Each is necessary before the plaintiffs would suffer a future injury traceable to the policy--seeking and being denied permission to testify because they are acting contrary to university interests. Until each happens, these plaintiffs need not request permission for these activities and will not be subject to the policy. The court must overlook how speculative and beyond the plaintiffs' control these facts are. Perhaps the court will decide that past history makes each likely to occur and perhaps it will not that this is a First Amendment case and be more forgiving. But a court is unlikely to abide such speculation in an environmental case.

The complaint is inconsistent in identifying the First Amendment problem with the policies, which might affect the standing analysis (showing, again, how intertwined merits and standing are). It identifies four defects. 1) The problem is making profs request permission before testifying, which it calls a prior restraint. 2) The problem is the discretion the policy vests in the university, a position the Eleventh Circuit rejected last year in a challenge to conflict policies at a different SUS institution. 3) The problem is the university denying permission to engage in positions contrary to Florida's "interests," which creates viewpoint discrimination (because a professor could testify in favor of Florida in the same action). 4) The problem is the university equating its interests with those of the state, which is problematic but not necessarily violative of the First Amendment.* These are distinct First Amendment theories with varying likelihoods of success. The likelihood of future injury varies depending on the theory of the case. For example, if the constitutional problem is making profs ask permission for any outside expert activity or testimony, that injury is more likely (since it is obvious they may testify in the future), although the constitutional merits argument is weaker.

[*] If the university and the state are the same, UF's position that the university is the state may prove too much, affecting the eligibility of federal judges to hear these cases. Many judges on the Eleventh Circuit and the Florida district courts serve as adjunct professors, whether teaching full classes or as part of a group of trial-advocacy instructors. They recuse in cases involving the university. But if the university and Florida are the same, then must they recuse in any case to which Florida is a party? That would have dramatic consequences.

The X-factor is the task force that the UF President convened to recommend a new policy for professors who want to testify in cases in which Florida is a party, which was charged to submit a preliminary recommendation by November 29. That new policy could end this dispute, depending on what it says and which of the distinct alleged constitutional defects it resolves. A court may not want to do anything with this complaint for a month, knowing that the situation will in three weeks and the complaint will go away or be materially changed. Perhaps the court will let the case sit until those further developments, especially since the plaintiffs do not need preliminary relief.

Finally, not to (again) beat a dead horse: But how much simpler would it be for a court to say "your First Amendment rights are not being violated in this situation, so you lose your claim"?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 6, 2021 at 11:33 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, November 04, 2021

JOTWELL: Pfander on Bray & Miller on equity

The new Courts Law essay comes from James Pfander (Northwestern), reviewing Samuel L. Bray & Paul Miller, Getting Into Equity, 97 Notre Dame L. Rev. (forthcoming 2022), including a shout-out to the SB8 litigation on everyone's mind.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 4, 2021 at 02:20 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Limiting principles

I co-sign this Stephen Sachs post on the failure of the WWH plaintiffs and the Court to identify limiting principles to justify an offensive action (especially against clerks) here that would not allow for offensive actions whenever a state-court defendant may have a constitutional defense. Any limitation still makes SB8 look like many non-extraordinary laws that have been handled defensively. And the things that make SB8 extraordinary (namely the limitations on state processes) can themselves be raised defensively.

This is a perfect framing of the problem that neither the plaintiffs nor the Court discussed yesterday--the courts possess the tools to handle this case as it does many others. The only way this falls outside of historical defensive litigation is if offensive litigation is constitutionally required--something no one argues but that everyone seems to assume as a background principle.

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 2, 2021 at 08:58 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 01, 2021

More thoughts on the SB8 argument

Additional random thoughts on the SB8 argument after the jump.

Assuming I (and the prevailing wisdom) are correct that the Court affirms the denial of dismissal in WWH and allows it to proceed, the big question is what happens to United States. Everyone, including the Texas AG, seemed to sense where the Court might go in WWH, arguing that this obviates the federal sovereign interest and thus the federal suit. One issue involves interim relief. Note where things stand. If SCOTUS reverses in US, the case goes back to the Fifth Circuit to review the district court decision that the heartbeat ban is invalid under Roe and Casey; it would make sense for SCOTUS to lift the stay of the district court's preliminary injunction, barring enforcement of the law pending review. If SCOTUS reverses in WWH, the case goes back to the district court for further litigation, including of a motion for a preliminary injunction. To the extent there is concern for enforcement of the law between the SCOTUS decision and the district court ruling in WWH, it may be necessary to keep US alive for the interim relief. The Court can resolve that by enjoining enforcement in WWH pending litigation; WWH counsel asked for such relief if the Court believed appropriate.

A few random further random thoughts:

    • Judicial departmentalism is dead. During his round-robin questioning  in WWH, Roberts asked about language from an amicus (I believe it was Jonathan Mitchell's) that "states have every prerogative to adopt interpretations of the Constitution that differ from the Supreme Court's." Stone said "other officers within Texas are bound likewise to . . . take the interpretations from this Court and federal law and to faithfully implement them." But that is true only if we accept judicial supremacy. A state legislature or executive can do what it pleases until it reaches court and encounters a judge who is bound by SCOTUS interpretations and the state's case goes up in flames. But saying the state will lose in court is not the same as saying all state officials are bound. Stone could offer no other answer, I suppose. But that is too bad--it shows how far down the judicial-supremacy hole we have gone and how unable we are to speak about constitutional litigation and adjudication with some precision.

    • There was distrust of state-court litigation that has never been part of the doctrine here. The following points were argued explicitly or as foundational assumptions, although none has ever been the case.: 1)  Having to litigate and defend against a claim under an invalid law is a constitutional injury and violations, regardless of whether the person is held liable or sanctioned for protected conduct; 2) Procedural due process limits rules of venue, preclusion, and other procedures; 3) It is not sufficient for a defendant to be able to raise due process challenges to state procedures in state court; there must be a federal forum for it; 4) a state-court forum is insufficient to litigate federal constitutional rights, at least if the state chooses certain procedural rules. I thought Stone did a good job of pushing back on these, but to no avail.

    • The potential copycat laws (guns, religion, etc.) reared their heads from several Justices. I thought Stone did as good a job as he could pointing to other non-hypothetical examples in which rights-holders have been pushed into state court and no one questioned it, including New York Times and Masterpiece Cakeshop in the face of a similar chilling effect.

    • No one acknowledges the process in which Shelley v. Kraemer was decided and how that affects what the case stands for. Several Justices asked whether Shelley overrides the can't-sue-judges language of EPY, because the Court in Shelley spoke repeatedly of how state judges "enforce" the law. But it matters that Shelley was not an offensive action against the judge and did not enjoin the judge; it was a defensive action in which the constitutional limitations on restrictive covenants provided a basis for SCOTUS review and reversal. Broad language about enforcement was unnecessary to the holding or principle of that case. The Court applied the same principle in New York Times, without the inaccurate language about enforcement. But NYT and Shelley involved the same idea--private plaintiff sues for a remedy under state law, the federal constitution limits the state law as applied in court; neither rests on the judge being the "enforcer" or a proper subject for a lawsuit.

A more accurate way of framing it would be that some enforcement occurs through the judicial process, but the enforcer is the person who initiates the process and seeks to establish liability, not the court who adjudicates. When the state prosecutes someone for a crime, that enforcement occurs within the judicial process and it is up to the judge to adjudicate the case; we all would say the AG or DA, not the judge, "enforced" the law by seeking to convict and punish the defendant. Shelley should be framed the same way--Kraemer enforced the restrictive covenant by suing to divest Shelley of the property. The litigant enforces the law; the enforcement occurs within litigation.

    • The WWH attempts to make SB8 seem unique by arguing that it lacks the elements of an ordinary tort claim or ordinary private civil litigation and that it imposes special litigation rules. But that begs the question (yes, I am using that term correctly) of what constitutes the essence of ordinary civil litigation or ordinary tort law or what are "ordinary" litigation rules so we can tell when the state has departed them. Otherwise it is impossible to limit SB8 in any principled way. And that is before we get into why the state's choice of venue or preclusion rules is constitutionally proscribed (see above).

        WWH counsel and Breyer came up with six: Anyone can sue; anywhere; no preclusive effect; Atty fees (heavy and one-way); damages heavy; limits on defenses; Damages not tied to harm; Mandatory injunction to prevent further violations. But no one explains what is problematic about any of those, individually or as a whole. Unless another unspoken point is true--Art. III is constitutionally required in state court, which no one has ever suggested.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 1, 2021 at 03:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

A solution in WWH (Updated)

That did not go as I expected. If I had to read tea leaves, the Justices seemed inclined to let WWH go forward while allowing US to die on the vine, whether by rejecting the US's theory of the suit or counting on the US to voluntarily go away in deference to the private action. Some thoughts after the jump. I had predicted the opposite, thinking that the "this is a unique law" would justify a unique case by the US, whereas allowing WWH to go forward opens up a new realm of federal constitutional litigation that the Justices are not anticipating.

My theory has been that WWH cannot work because there is no one to sue--no executive enforces and Mark Dickson has not shown an intent to sue. WWH's theory--sue the judges and clerks--does not work because they are not responsible executive officers and they are not adverse to WWH and other providers. But Justice Sotomayor, with Kagan and Breyer weighing, offered something that works (which I had not thought of) without the slippery-slope concerns.

Part of the EPY fiction is that enjoining the attorney general (or whomever the responsible executive officer is) reaches everyone below the AG who enforces the law; an injunction barring the AG from enforcing a criminal law would prohibit a DA from initiating an individual prosecution.* So apply that idea to the deputized private SB8 plaintiffs who act as the equivalent to DAs--enjoin the AG based on his residual enforcement authority and the injunction applies to every individual private enforcer beneath him. The theory requires the additional step (which never came up during argument) of whether and why SB8 plaintiffs act under color of state law, which would have cut through Stone's resistance to the idea that private individuals were agents or deputized. They are not agents or deputies, but they are performing a traditional-and-exclusive public function in enforcing law for the public benefit. Under SB8, private individuals serve the role of individual DAs or other enforcing officers captured in an injunction against the highest responsible state officer.

    [*] Texas SG Judd Stone pushed back on Texas DA's independent authority. Kagan attempted to get at this by asking what would happen if a state enacted a heartbeat ban with ordinary criminal punishment. She never got a good answer. But she (and I) cannot believe that if Texas enacted a law criminalizing all abortions that an injunction prohibiting Greg Abbott from enforcing that law would not be read to prohibit every DA from enforcing the law).

WWH narrowed its theory in its Reply and in the argument, focusing clerks as the real target of the suit and remedy. My guess is they ran from language in EPY saying federal courts cannot enjoin judges from adjudicating, as well as the argument that judges do not enforce and are not adverse to the litigants. Docketing a case is "administrative" in a sense, so it fits better with the idea of stopping enforcement. The problem remains that clerks are no more adverse to the litigants than the judge is. The clerk is a neutral recipient and processor of the lawsuit enabling the (neutral, non-adverse) judge to adjudicate. [Update: Stephen Sachs explains why suing clerks makes no sense, including why the shift from enjoining enforcement of the law to enjoining "commencement" of the suit does not work, because the enforcer and commerncer remains the party bringing suit, not the clerk who puts it in the system).

Sotomayor's new theory works because it does not eviscerate private civil litigation or the state power to decide what laws to enact and how to enforce them. It applies to unique circumstance in which the delegation of exclusive enforcement authority for the benefit of the public renders private state-law plaintiffs state actors/persons acting under color of state law It would not apply to ordinary civil litigation to remedy a personal injury that will be met with a federal constitutional defense. This theory works because the expansion of the injunctive power under  fits the elements of the law being challenged. "Sue the AG to reach the deputized enforcers" can be limited to the extraordinary law that deputizes private plaintiffs to enforce state law--absent deputized enforcers, the theory does not work and so does not affect other lawsuits.

On the other hand, thereis no logical way to limit "sue-the-clerks" to the extraordinary case than by fiat--declaring SB8 (and presumably its imitators) as unique (based on several elements the Court and WWH identified) and creating a Bush v. Gore-good-for-this-trip-only process. Otherwise, the option of suing clerks to avoid the chilling effect of having to litigate defensively in state court logically must be available to any state-court defendant with a constitutional defense. Suing clerks also has serious administrability problems. Clerks ordinarily do not (and cannot) review or analyze lawsuits before docketing them, so an injunction would require them to do something they typically do not do. Moreover, Alito offered the hypothetical of a plaintiff who brings an SB8 claim along with a malpractice or IIED claim; lawyers for WWH said that the clerk could not accept that suit, although it would be under ordinary tort law, with none of the special problems of SB8. This suggests that "sue the clerks" cannot be limited to SB8 claims.

Update: Consider a real-life example, courtesy of Eugene Volokh: There is ongoing debate about whether the right of publicity can exist in light of the First Amendment and the constitutional limits on the scope of that tort. The First Amendment battle is fought defensively--plaintiffs suing for violations of the right of publicity and speakers defending on First Amendment grounds. If the Court allows suits against clerks, any speaker fearing a right-of-publicity claim would take that option rather than waiting for a suit and a defensive posture. The only way to avoid that is for a court to say "SB8 is different," although those differences have nothing to do with the choice between offensive and defensive litigation.

Now we wait, I expect for a few weeks--I believe the Court will decide this before argument in Dobbs on December 1. The question whether the Court takes the smart way to resolve this without blowing up the ordinary rules of constitutional litigation. Sototmayor's question offers a way that is less destructive than allowing EPY actions against clerks and judges.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 1, 2021 at 03:18 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

The solution cannot be worse than the problem

In advance of this morning's arguments in the SB8 cases ( US v. Texas and WWH v. Jackson), Ilya Somin endorses the amicus brief of the Firearms Policy Coalition against the validity of SB8 (it is concerned that a Blue state will enact a similar law targeting firearms owners). The gist is that the enactment and existence of a constitutionally violative law that chills the exercise of constitutional rights violates those rights and the courts can enjoin whoever "adopts and implements" the law, including judges and private individuals who have not revealed themselves.

This position has broad implications. It rejects a number of established principles, especially with respect to suing judges and with the question of what constitutes a constitutional violation. It would be least appealing to Justice Thomas, the staunchest advocate of gun rights. It also places a centrality on offensive/preemptive federal-court adjudication, resting on the belief that defensive state-court litigation is per se insufficient to protect constitutional rights. That undermines among other things, Younger and perhaps the well-pleaded complaint rule as applied to constitutional defenses (which is the best solution to this). It shifts massive amount of litigation into federal court--any tort defendant with a First amendment defense would be entitled to a federal forum and adjudication of the federal issues in federal district court.

The beauty of resolving this case through United States rather than through WWH is that it does the least damage to the ordinary flow of constitutional litigation. The federal government will sue only in the extraordinary case, so a broad take on its powers to seek anticipatory relief will be be more limited than one that says any rights-holder facing enforcement of state law in a way that might violate their rights is gauaranteed a federal forum by suing the state-court judge.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 1, 2021 at 08:38 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Myths of SB8

Rocky and I have a post at Balkinization previewing Monday's arguments in the SB8 cases. Short answer: United States v. Texas should proceed on either standing theory with an equitable cause of action, while WWH should fail for lack of a proper defendant to sue or enjoin at this time (whether they call it standing, sovereign immunity, or no violation on the merits).

I will write something about the argument on Monday. And I am doing an argument post-mortem for the Federalist Society (with Stephen Sachs of Harvard) on Tuesday. Yes, my views on this align with Fed Soc rather than ACS--we live in strange times.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 30, 2021 at 11:12 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 22, 2021

SCOTUS grants review in SB8

SCOTUS granted cert before judgment in United States v. Texas and WWH v. Jackson, with argument on November 1. The grant in Texas is limited to whether Texas can sue. The Court declined to lift the Fifth Circuit's stay of the injunction in United States, so the law remains enforceable; Justice Sotomayor was the lone dissent on that point.

Our papers are about to change dramatically.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 22, 2021 at 01:32 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

JOTWELL: Mullenix on Norris on neoliberal procedure

The new Courts Law essay comes from Linda Mullenix (Texas) reviewing Luke Norris, Neoliberal Civil Procedure, 12 UC Irvine L. Rev. (forthcoming 2022).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 20, 2021 at 11:56 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Speech or Debate Immunity and defensive litigation

Donald Trump has sued to stop compliance with 1/6 Committee subpoenas; defendants are the committee, chair Bennie Thompson, the Archives, and David Ferriero, the national archivist. The suit is the usual Trump bullshit, with allegations that the committee is "attempting to damage the republic itself" (as opposed to 1/6 itself, which has been converted into an act of patriotic heroism).

Regardless of the validity of the subpoena, I cannot figure out how a lawsuit can be brought or proceed against a member of Congress and a congressional committee, both of whom enjoy immunity from being "questioned in any other Place" for any speech or debate, which includes issuing legislative subpoenas. This offers another example of litigation being pushed into a defensive rather than offensive posture. The target of the subpoena cannot go on the offensive to enjoin enforcement; he is supposed to "stand on his privilege and go into contempt," challenging the validity of the subpoena as a defense in either a civil-enforcement proceeding or a criminal-contempt proceeding.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 19, 2021 at 08:37 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 18, 2021

Lots of SB8 stuff

Rocky and I have an essay on law.com (paywalled, I believe) summarizing our basic arguments. We also split our major article into a series. The piece on the limits and possibilities for offensive litigation will be published in American University Law Review in January. The piece on defensive litigation will be published in SMU Law Review in March. And  we think we can spin one or two more out--one on the New York Times/defamation analogy and one on retroactive liability (SB8 has a four-year limitations period and allows for retroactive liability for abortions performed while a "decision" rendered the law unenforceable.

Meanwhile, the U.S. on Monday asked SCOTUS to lift the Fifth Circuit stay on the district court injunction (rendering the law unenforceable) and to treat the motion as a petition for cert before judgment, asking the Court to set the case for argument this Term. The U.S. lawsuit is the wildcard in this. On one hand, it preempts our analysis as to SB8, rendering it unnecessary for providers and advocates to find a way to litigate. On the other, this is bigger than Texas and SB8. States will follow suit and the U.S. cannot and will not jump into every dispute, whether for political, policy, or resource reasons. So rights-holders must find a way to work with these laws.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 18, 2021 at 07:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Qualified immunity returns with a vengeance

It was only about 18 months ago that it looked as if SCOTUS was gearing up for major changes to qualified immunity. More than a dozen cases, some with egregious facts, were on the docket. Justice Thomas had questioned the scope and pedigree of the doctrine and called for reconsideration. Although the Court denied cert in all of those dozens, it summarily reversed a grant of QI in a case with factual disputes.

That came to a record scratch today with two summary reversals in Fourth Amendment cases, without noted dissent, based on the factual dissimilarity between the circuit precedent relied on and the facts at issue. One case, Rivas-Villegas, questioned whether circuit precedent can clearly establish or whether SCOTUS precedent is required (or perhaps precedent from multiple circuits).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 18, 2021 at 03:55 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 14, 2021

5th Circuit stays injunction in US v. Texas

Here, over one dissent. No reasoning, other than citing to the 5th Circuit and SCOTUS stay decisions in WWH. That seems too facile to me. There are procedural and remedial issues in this case, but they are different than those in WWH, so those reasons cannot support the stay here. Plus,  the government's case is stronger, even with the procedural questions there. A district court's 113-page analysis in a case the federal government believed was extraordinary enough to pursue is entitled to greater deference, especially given the irreparable harm to the pregnant women of Texas.

SCOTUS is next.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 14, 2021 at 10:43 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

The state role in offensive and defensive litigation

An interesting exchange between Justice Kavanaugh and counsel for Kentucky in Cameron v. EMW Women's Surgical Center. At issue is whether the attorney general can intervene at the appellate stage to defend a law when other executive officers will not do so. Here is the exchange:

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: Does the same kind
of rule apply in private litigation? So suppose
a private plaintiff sues a private defendant
under state tort law. The state -- the private
defendant argues that the state tort law is
unconstitutional, and the court on appeal rules
that the tort law is unconstitutional, okay?
And the state -- the private plaintiff, sorry,
chooses not to seek en banc or cert.

Can a state AG intervene in that
circumstance even though the private plaintiff
has chosen not to seek en banc or cert to argue
that the state tort law is, in fact,
constitutional?

MR. KUHN: I think this Court told us
in Hollingsworth that a private party defending
state law is just a different matter than a
state official who has sworn an oath to defend
Kentucky's constitution who is popularly
elected.

So I think the state in that
circumstance would -
-

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: The state tort law
in that circumstance will be declared
unconstitutional. And I think, by saying it's
different, you're saying the state AG in that
case could not seek en banc or cert even though
the state tort law had been declared
unconstitutional?

MR. KUHN: Our position is not that he
could not do so but that it would not be as easy
of an argument in that circumstance. I think it
matters that we have a handoff from one state
official to another, both of whom are sworn to
defend Kentucky law.

I think a lot of the things I'm saying
today would be consistent with the -- with the
hypothetical that you're talking about. But I
think we're perhaps a half step beyond that and
this is a much easier case than the one you've
hypothesized.

I do not know if Kavanaugh asked the question with SB8 (or its many tort analogues) in mind, but it is relevant. When the state delegates enforcement power to private parties for the purpose of eliminating offensive (preemptive/anticipatory) litigation by rights-holders, it would be the height of chutzpah to claim the power to intervene as the law's primary defender if it does not like the private -party delegee's litigation decisions. Kentucky's SG seemed to recognize the crux of the issue as the difference between the state acting when it is defending a law challenged in offensive constitutional litigation and the issue is which executive officer can lead that defense and the state acting when a private person has enforced the law by initiating judicial proceedings and the question is how the law is being litigated.

Competing incentives and obligations create a unique twist on this exchange as to SB8. An anti-choice SB8 plaintiffs who loses in the trial court has less incentive to appeal the constitutional issue if they lose in the trial court. Given the obvious (for-the-moment) invalidity of SB8, anti-choice activists are better off with the threat of litigation and liability chilling providers than they are appealing an adverse judgment and establishing likely adverse binding precedent. But what about the state? Would it attempt to step-in if a private plaintiff gives up on litigation? Or does it have the same incentive to let sleeping dogs lie and leave the constitutional issue unresolved as binding precedent and allow the chilling effect to continue.

This reflects another difference between offensive and defensive litigation. Offensive litigation produces a  remedy for the rights-holder, such as injunction, that, depending on the plaintiff and the right at issue, protects against future enforcement. The state thus has an incentive to appeal to avoid those those prospective limitations. Defensive litigation does not grant a rights-holder a prospective remedy, only a favorable judgment in one attempted enforcement. Like the private SB8 plaintiff, the state may be willing to take the loss in that case but to leave the legal issues unresolved to allow future enforcement and future litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 14, 2021 at 06:28 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Argument preview for Thompson v. Clark

SCOTUS on Tuesday hears argument in Thompson v. Clark, considering whether favorable termination for certain § 1983 claims requires an affirmative showing of innocence or a showing criminal proceedings ended in a manner not inconsistent with innocence. My SCOTUSBlog preview is here.

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 10, 2021 at 02:23 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Braid v. Stilley in federal court

This happened Tuesday, but a busy teaching day and other events make it moot, at least for now. Dr. Alan Braid, the Texas doctor who performed a prohibited abortion and announced it in the Washington Post, was named in three state-court actions. Braid filed suit against those SB8 plaintiffs in the Northern District of Illinois (where one of the three lives).

The lead claim is an interpleader action. This is a claim allowing a federal court to resolve competing claims over a res (usually a limited pool of money). Braid alleges that the $ 10,000 judgment is a limited pool and the three SB8 plaintiffs (as well as any other potential plaintiffs) make competing claims. Interpleader requires minimal diversity and allows for nationwide service of process. It then seeks declaratory judgments about the validity of SB8, complete with allegations about the plaintiffs acting under color of state law (although without citing § 1983 or identifying § 1331 as a basis for jurisdiction).

Teddy Rave (Texas) floated the interpleader idea on the Civ Pro Listserv and it generated some discussion. The better view, I believe, is that it does not work. A potential judgment in an ongoing litigation is generally not the type of res or limited fund that can be the basis for an impleader--otherwise, anyone facing a state-court suit for breach of contract and liquidated damages would file an interpleader action over the liquidated damages as a limited fund, creating a federal forum. The res in this case has not come into existence. And there is no definite limited fund because there is no definitive judgment. Braid deposited $ 10,000 with the court, but that is the minimum damages available under the statute (the Arkansas-tax-cheat plaintiff asked for $ 100,000), not the settled res. The three SB8 plaintiffs do not have competing claims on a single pot of money. Rather, all have state-law claims against him of at least $ 10,000 and are in a race to a judgment of some as-yet-undetermined amount, with the first entitled to recover and the others out of luck. Again, to compare a tort: If I injure three people in a car accident, I cannot use interpleader to go to federal court and say "I have $ 250,000, adjudicate which of the three injured people get it." I also believe Colorado River abstention may kick-in, with federal courts denying this attempt to create parallel federal litigation to an ongoing state case involving the same issues.

Plus, why is this necessary? Braid's attorneys recognize and make the arguments and factual allegations for constitutional claims against SB8 plaintiffs as state actors to get a DJ about SB8's validity and an injunction stopping those state lawsuits. Why not make that the core of the argument (with jurisdiction under § 1331) and avoid the messy procedure? Yes, they have to deal with Younger. But the arguments for getting around Younger are stronger than the arguments that this is not what interpleader looks like and for Colorado River abstention. The only benefit I see from this move is being in in federal court in Illinois (because of nationwide service of process--two of the defendants have no connection to Illinois) and the Seventh Circuit. Some federal district judges in Texas are receptive to creative procedural arguments to get to the substance of SB8's invalidity, so that is a wash. My guess is Braid wants review to be in the Seventh Circuit rather than the Fifth. Which is understandable.

I continue to not understand the insistence that this is some strange case requiring strange procedures. There are ordinary mechanisms for litigating these issues, including in federal court. There are tremendous costs to these processes in this case and they are not the ones that reproductive-rights supporters (of which I am one) would prefer. But that is different than insisting, as the district court did last night, that this law eliminates judicial review and so requires extraordinary procedures.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 6, 2021 at 11:43 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Court enjoins enforcement of SB8 (Updated and moved to top)

Order here. I am beginning to go through it. I have already found some loose language about the US stopping states from enacting invalid laws, as opposed to enforcing. But it adopted the broad views of standing I expected.

OK, I am back. Nothing in here is too surprising. A few comments, mostly as it affects my interests in the procedure of the case. My overall conclusion is that the result is defensible in the unique context of a suit by the United States. But it is wrong in a number of points along the way, reflecting the common mistakes in the overall discussion of SB8.

• The order enjoins the state, including clerks and judges, but private individuals only to the extent their conduct causes clerks and judges to violate the injunction. This is wrong. The court cites no case law in which a federal district court has enjoined a state judge from receiving or adjudicating a case, as opposed to enjoining would-be parties from moving forward with that litigation. The court brushes aside the language in Ex Parte Young about not enjoining judges (as opposed to executives) by insisting the case is about sovereign immunity, which is not in play in a suit by the United States. But that portion of the opinion was not saying judges have sovereign immunity, it was describing the scope of the cause of action, limiting it to executives, not judges. It should follow that it does not apply to clerks.

• The court ignores the distinction between enforcement of a law and the creation and existence of a law, treating both as a source of a constitutional violation and something to be enjoined. This is wrong, as stated in Massachusetts v. Mellon, a case the court relies on in according the U.S. parens patriae  standing. The court compares this case to Cooper v. Aaron. But Cooper was about enforcement--the local officials sued were members of the executive branch who were executing the laws surrounding school admissions and thus were proper subjects for an injunction. The legislators who enact a law do not enforce it and the executive officers do not do anything here. The court ignores that distinction.

• Both of the above are unfortunate, because there is another way. The court points out that the state delegated enforcement authority to private individuals--that is, the act of delegation is state action. Delegation makes the private actor part of the state, so the "state" should include those private actors exercising delegated state power, separate from judges and clerks. An injunction against the state reaches everyone acting for the state, including all authorized private individuals. I think that is justifiable and consistent with the idea that courts enjoin executives from enforcing laws, no one else.

Update: I should clarify the above. A  court enjoins actors from doing certain things. It enjoins the executive from executing, but cannot enjoin the legislature from legislating and cannot enjoin judges from judging. If one enjoined party does all three things, then the order must be limited to enjoining that executive function, but not the other functions. The rough analogy is Supreme Court of Virginia v. Consumers Union, an action against the state supreme court and its chief justice over bar disciplinary rules. The court performed three functions--it legislated in enacting the rules, executed in initiating disciplinary proceedings, and adjudicated in ruling on those proceedings. The Court allowed the injunction, but only as initiating disciplinary proceedings. Similarly, the court could enjoin Texas from enforcing, capturing everything and everyone under Texas law authorized to enforce, including deputized private individuals.

• The court buys the United States argument that meaningful judicial review means federal judicial review that begins in a federal district court. Anything else--including SCOTUS review of state-court judgments in which constitutional rights are raised defensively--is constitutionally deficient, precludes individuals from vindicating their rights, and warrants federal judicial intervention before anything can happen in state court.. The court emphasizes how state procedure limits providers' ability to defend SB8 actions in state court through (the court implies) invalid restrictions, without considering that the validity of those restrictions can be challenged in state court and can form the basis for SCOTUS review. Everyone on the left is lauding this is "indisputable," as calling Texas out on a cynical and invalid ploy to avoid judicial review.

But this position means that state tort law is invalid, to the extent a tort is defined in an unconstitutional manner. To use the example we include in our papers: Imagine a state anticipates the overruling of New York Times and redefines its defamation law to not require actual malice. Since tort law can only be enforced in private litigation, would that procedure also be improper, justifying an injunction against state judges? And if not, what is the difference between this case and my hypothetical new tort law? The implicit answer is SB8 is not tort law, because the authorized plaintiffs have not been injured. But that begs the question of what "tort law" is and whether a state can adopt a broader understanding of what injuries are or should be sufficient for suit. The court never addresses this.  This case is different from ordinary tort law, but those differences go to why SB8 plaintiffs act under color when ordinary tort plaintiffs do not. But it should not change anything about the routine and proper nature of private civil litigation and of raising constitutional rights in a defensive posture.

• The court addresses Texas' concern that this opens the door to the United States suing states, insisting the U.S. will limit itself to the exceptional case. I have described this as the U.S. suing when it can get "more bang for the buck" through a single big case. The court identifies some features that make this a big case.

• I agree with the broad take on U.S. injury and an equitable cause of action even absent congressional authorization. And I agree that there is causation and redressability, but not for the reasons the court identifies.

• Texas filed a Notice of Appeal to the Fifth Circuit (PIs are immediately reviewable) and stated it as related to the pending appeal in the WWH case. The question is whether the Fifth Circuit or SCOTUS stays the injunction pending review. They should not stay it. This is a blatantly invalid law. Once a court finds the correct procedure to enjoin enforcement, the irreparable harm from actual or threatened enforcement means the injunction should be in effect until resolution of the litigation.

More to come, almost certainly.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 6, 2021 at 09:07 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

JOTWELL: Vladeck on Siegel on habeas

The new Courts Law essay comes from Steve Vladeck (Texas), reviewing Jonathan R. Siegel, Habeas, History, and Hermeneutics, Ariz. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2022), which traces the history of habeas in the shadow of Edwards v. Vannoy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 6, 2021 at 01:23 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

SB8 and SCOTUS politics

SB8 is getting caught up in debates over SCOTUS politics, whether the justices are partisan hacks, and the shadow docket. This is skewing some of the discussion of the validity of the law and how providers and advocates should navigate it.


The Court was right to deny emergency relief. The WWH lawsuit was bad, given the law. No public official was a proper defendant--executive officials do not enforce the law, regulatory agencies disclaimed indirect enforcement, and you do not sue judges to stop adjudication. The individual defendant had not sued or indicate an intent to sue; the complaint alleged that he made public statements in support of the law and of people suing to stop abortion, but never that he intended to bring his own suits. So the Court could look at this law and this complaint and say the plaintiffs (the ones seeking relief) have not shown a likelihood of success on the merits because they have not found anyone suable at this time.


SB8 critics--in the media, in academia, and in the WWH dissent offer three basic arguments. The first is that the Court can enjoin SB8 itslef (and keep it from taking effect) because it is so clearly invalid and it hid intended to avoid preenforcement reveiw, so it does not matter who the defendants were. That, of course, is not how constitutional litigation works. Court enjoin enforcement, not laws. The Constitution does not dictate that states adopt any enforcement mechanism or that offensive litigation be an option in challenging a law.

The second is that the usual target (AG or governor) was unavailable, so WWH sued everyone it could think of (true), therefore the Court should have enjoined enforcement because someone in that mix must be a proper defendant. That would have given some court time to dig through and find that proper defendant. But that is not how this works. It is on the plaintiffs to identify proper defendants. And there may not have been a proper target for offensive litigation at this moment. Dickson or another individual could be subject to a federal suit, but he must make some move towards bringing an SB8 suit that he has not yet made. Sometimes (e.g., defamation) state law is enforced only through private litigation and challenged only defensively.

The third argument is that the outcome in SCOTUS would have been different if the political valence of the law had been different--that five-Justice majority would have granted relief, despite the glaring procedural problems, if California banned gun purchases and allowed private suits against gun owners. This assertion is neither provable nor disprovable. But accept it as true (it probably is). So what? Granting emergency relief in that situation would be wrong and it would expose the Justices as the results-oriented partisans they insist they are not. But the solution to that problem is not that the Court should have granted relief here --that it should have been wrong when the case carried a different political valence.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 5, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Constitutuionalizing constitutional litigation

The district court held argument Friday on DOJ's motion for a TRO (which will be treated as a preliminary injunction) in its lawsuit against Texas over SB8. Reports suggest the judge was skeptical of the law. I could see the judge granting the injunction because the irreparable harm is so great. Then we see how faithful the Fifth Circuit is to the standard for stays.

Many stories about the hearing focus on one question from Judge Pitman to Texas: If it was "confident" in the constitutional validity of SB8, why did it "go to such great lengths" to avoid direct enforcement. The question presumes that the purpose of private enforcement is and that this is constitutionally problematic. Accepting the first, point which is probably true, the second point presumes two further, erroneous things.

The first is that states are limited in the power to decide what laws to enact and how to enforce them. That has never been the case. States create substantive rights and can choose to have those rights enforced through private tort- or tort-like litigation. The Constitution limits the substantive rights, not the enforcement process. If those state substantive rights abridge federal constitutional rights, rights-holders can raise that as a defense. This is what happened in New York Times and its progeny and in Shelley v. Kramer and what is happening now to Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop. And the tort analogy is important because tort law uses exclusive private enforcement--the state will not sue or prosecute a newspaper for defamation.

The response, of course, is this is not tort law because tort law is about remedying personal injuries, where as an SB8 plaintiff can be any random person who need not show any personal effects. That leads to the second false premise--that Article III's personal-injury requirement is incorporated into Fourteenth Amendment due process. The Constitution limits state power to decide who can sue to enforce the state-law rights it creates, allowing states to authorize private suits only by those who have suffered a personal injury. But this also has never been the case. For example, the Court never considered or raised the possibility that California law violated the Constitution by authorizing non-injured, disconnected "any persons" to sue Nike for false advertising.*

[*] The Court dismissed cert as improvidently granted in Nike, avoiding an important First Amendment issue about the meaning of commercial speech. The possibility that the state-law authorization of private litigation was invalid would have given the Court an additional reason not to dismiss.

News reports suggest the district court will grant the injunction. I will be curious to see the grounds for the injunction, envisioning a "right-result-for-the-wrong-reason" opinion. The DOJ lawsuit runs into the same problem as private offensive actions. SB8 does not violate the Constitution by existing, so the constitutional violation and thus the injunction must focus on stopping enforcement of the law. But "Texas," in the sense of Texas executive officers, does not enforce this law. "Texas" includes state judges. But anti-suit relief from a federal court does not run against the courts or judges (as opposed to litigants) to keep them from adjudicating cases before them; capturing judges within "Texas" does not change that the injunction would prevent adjudication rather than enforcement. A proper injunction in the DOJ lawsuit depends on"Texas" including the millions of deputized "any persons" who do enforce the law. It must be that suing Texas reaches this entire group, even if an individual rights-holder plaintiff could not prove that any particular person intended to sue. I believe that argument works, in the unique and rare context of sovereign-to-sovereign. I doubt the district court can parse the issue that well. And no one will care if he reaches the "right" (in the eyes of reproductive-rights supporters, of which I am one) result.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 2, 2021 at 11:20 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Florida sinks to Texas' level

Florida Rep. Webster Barnaby (besides vying for most Southern name imaginable) has introduced the Florida Heartbeat Act, a carbon copy of SB8--ban on post-heartbeat abortions, no public enforcement, private civil action by "a person" against providers. No surprise, either that there is a copycat or that Florida would be the first copycat. Given how quickly this is going to fall apart, one wonders if it is worth the bother. But Ron DeSantis needs something else to run on. And maybe a few months of stopped abortions, until the wheels fall off, is sufficient.

It will pass next year, take effect in July 1, 2022, and we will be back where we are. My guess is that rather than wasting time on offensive litigation, providers will be quicker to set-up the defensive test case: Perform the abortion on July 2, find a friendly plaintiff on July 3, and off we go.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2021 at 07:06 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

The truth of SB8

The Times reports on the two SB8 lawsuits, including a quotation from Supreme Court litigator Paul Smith that defensive litigation is the "nicest, cleanest way" to get to SCOTUS, which is what we have been arguing from the start. This is not speedy or comprehensive. But no litigation is, in fact, comprehensive in the sense of one case prohibiting all enforcement. And defensive litigation avoids having to endure the Fed Courts seminar that offensive litigation requires.

I was struck by this bit of honesty from anti-choice activists in Texas:

These out-of-state suits are not what the bill is intended for,” said Chelsey Youman, the Texas state director and national legislative adviser for Human Coalition, an anti-abortion group that said it had no plans to file a lawsuit against the physician, Dr. Alan Braid, or to encourage others to do so.

“The goal is to save as many lives as possible, and the law is working,” Ms. Youman said, adding that the notion behind the law was that the mere threat of liability would be so intimidating that providers would simply comply.

The complaints about the lawsuits being "plants" or about Braid inviting the lawsuits is nonsense. Activists do not get to control who avails themselves of a legal right they advocated for. They drafted the statute to allow "any person," without limiting "any person" to those that share their policy goals or positions.

I do wonder what to make of the idea of enacting a law with no intention of enforcing it, hoping that the chilling effect of the risk of enforcement will be sufficient to stop the disfavored conduct, without actual enforcement. Is that a legitimate use to make of law? On the other hand, it suggests that the fears of crippling litigation and judgments might have been overblown. There was no real threat of overwhelming liability because no one wanted to enforce. But the possibility of a lawsuit by "friendly" plaintiff who will bring the claim and allow for litigation means the law does not, in fact, insulate the law or thwart judicial review.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2021 at 03:04 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

These are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand

Operation Rescue has asked the Texas Medical Board to investigate Dr. Braid and to suspend and permanently revoke his license, based on his admitted performance of a post-heartbeat abortion. (H/T: David Cohen of Drexel). The letter is a sight to behold, explaining that Dr. Braid wants to be sued for his "defiant attitude and unlawful act," so OE went to the Board to seek a sanction without giving him what he wants. It also is stupid, if the goal of this and other anti-choice activists is to make it difficult to get a judicial ruling on the constitutional validity of the heartbeat ban.

The lone viable theory to get into federal district court is an action by medical providers (doctors, nurses, clinics) against the regulatory boards to stop "indirect enforcement"--licensed professionals must adhere to health laws, including SB8, so the licensing bodies can be enjoined from using an SB8 violation as the predicate for a licensure action because SB8 is constitutionally invalid. The original WWH complaint (the one sitting in the Fifth Circuit and in which SCOTUS refused to enjoin enforcement pending review) included claims against the medical, nursing, and pharmacy boards on this theory. In denying the motion to dismiss the appeal and staying the district court proceedings, the Fifth Circuit stated that SB8’s prohibition on public enforcement includes this sort of indirect enforcement.

Operation Rescue’s letter argues the opposite of that position. If the medical board moves on this, it is going to have a harder time arguing in the ongoing WWH suit that it does not and will not yield indirect enforcement authority. That means WWH has at least one claim against one defendant for which there is standing and no sovereign immunity and that can move forward in federal court and allow for resolution of the law’s constitutional validity. Alternatively, Braid has a state actor against whom to bring a new lawsuit in federal court. There is standing and no sovereign immunity, because possible enforcement is imminent based on the complaint, unless the Board again conclusively disclaims this enforcement authority. Any injunction will not stop any private individuals from pursuing claims and will not protect advocates from aiding-and-abetting claims; it would protect only providers from licensure actions. But this creates a path to (limited) federal litigation and quicker path to SCOTUS and binding precedent that the heartbeat ban is invalid, which will govern future private actions.

If the Board moves forward on this complaint, it creates some tricky abstention issues. The now-pending state administrative proceeding may require the federal court to abstain under Younger, at least as to any claims Braid brings himself or in the WWH case. Braid then has the same anti-abstention arguments that could lie against private SB8 plaintiffs--no adequate opportunity to raise the constitutional issue in the state proceeding, bad faith, flagrantly unconstitutional law. Also, the question of indirect enforcement is a state-law issue that might require certification or Pullman abstention. As I said, this law is a Fed Courts/Civil Rights class.

But here is a larger point. SB8 was drafted by a smart lawyer and legal scholar with a particular understanding of constitutional law and litigation (that I happen to share). The law contains moving pieces and requires collective patience to achieve its desired result--stopping abortion through actual or threatened civil liability while eliminating any governmental targets for immediate offensive litigation in federal court. But operatives on the ground seem to lack that sophisticated understanding or patience and, without realizing it, may undermine the law's complex scheme. OE's letter illustrates that impatience and apparent lack of understanding of what the law is designed to do. Whether it undermines the grand plan depends on what happens next.

Update: An additional thought. As Mary Ziegler has argued, this is not the first time states have attempted to use private civil litigation. In the 1990s, activists tried to sue providers for medical malpractice, failure to give informed consent, and other misdeeds. But interest in this slow, bel0w-the radar process died out in favor of direct and high-profile attacks on Roe itself. The OE letter reflects that.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 21, 2021 at 01:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 20, 2021

We have our SB8 test case (Udpated)

We have our SB8 test case(s). On Saturday, Texas doctor Alan Braid wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post announcing/confessing to performing a first-trimester-post-heartbeat abortion. On Monday, Oscar Stilley filed suit in state court in Bexar County. Stilley is a disbarred lawyer and tax protester, under home confinement serving a 15-year sentence on tax charges. Expect to read a lot more about his brand of insanity, some of which appears in the complaint--he alleges that he called Braid and asked him to "repent of his ideology as well as his deeds" and filed suit only when "such respectful efforts" failed to secure an agreement.

Update: A second suit was filed by a "pro choice plaintiff" from Illinois, also in Bexar County. Further Update: This plaintiff also is a lawyer who has encountered some disciplinary problems.

I agree with the comment someone made on the ConLawProf listserv: This is the plaintiff Texas deserves for enacting this nonsense. I would be curious about what the anti-choice community thinks of this suit. This is not who they want as the face of the movement nor is he likely to offer the best defense of the law. In the same way the reproductive-rights community wants an appealing person to violate the law, those seeking to defend the law want an appealing plaintiff. I imagine activists were happy with the current state of affairs--no lawsuits, no abortions in the state, running out the clock until (they hope) a favorable decision in Dobbs. (Further Update: The head of Texas right to life is not happy, calling the suits "self-serving legal stunts, abusing the cause of action created in the Texas Heartbeat Act for their own purposes." This is a long way of saying "Fuck, we have been hoisted on our own petards.")

Braid's first move in state court should be a motion to dismiss on constitutional grounds and a request for expedited briefing. The more interesting question is whether Braid brings a § 1983 action against Stilley on a public-function theory (in enforcing state law under an exclusive delegation, Stilley is performing a traditional-and-exclusive public function) and seeks to enjoin him from pursuing the state-court litigation. This might be the path into federal court. We are off and running.

The second, "pro choice plaintiff" complaint is its own form of nonsense that undermines its own strategy. One paragraph moves the court to declare the act unconstitutional and another alleges that Braid did not violate Roe (whatever that means) and that the act is unlawful. This is not the way to do this. There is room for what Rocky labels "arranged" litigation, in which a plaintiff who supports reproductive freedom brings the lawsuit and is willing to lose, giving the doctor the opportunity to challenge SB8's constitutional validity, including on appeal. The statute allows "any person" to sue, so there is no basis for the court to look for either injury or adverseness; a person can say he is suing because he needs the money. But the sympathetic plaintiff must act like a plaintiff by alleging that the defendant violated the law; it is on the defendant to make the arguments against the law. But given the pervasive misunderstanding of procedure in this mess, it should not be surprising that the first moves come from people who cannot get the procedure right.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 20, 2021 at 07:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

JOTWELL: Steinman on Bayefsky on respect and Article III

The new Courts Law essay comes from Adam Steinman (Alabama) reviewing Rachel Bayefsky, Remedies and Respect: Rethinking the Role of Federal Judicial Relief, 109 Geo. L.J. 1263 (2021). This is a great article (and great review), although I unsurprisingly do not believe the model, however valid, gets us to universal injunctions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 20, 2021 at 12:27 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 17, 2021

Jurisdiction, merits, and the First Amendment

From the Sixth Circuit, reaching the correct result for confused and convoluted reasons.

Anti-Israel protesters have picketed outside Beth Israel Synagogue in Ann Arbor every Shabbatt since 2003. Two congregants sued the protesters for intentional infliction and various civil rights claims and the city and various municipal officials for not stopping the protests. The district court dismissed the claims for lack of standing, finding that emotional distress is not a sufficient Article III injury. The Sixth Circuit majority held that the plaintiffs had standing, but that the claims fail on the merits because the protests are First Amendment protected activity. Judge Clay concurred, arguing that the plaintiffs lack standing and the district court lacks jurisdiction because the claims are so frivolous.

This is another example of standing and jurisdiction complicating and distracting straight-forward cases. Plaintiffs brought a long-established common law claim and the only question should have been whether the protesters expressive conduct was constitutionally protected and thus not a basis for liability. It makes no sense to erect, understand, and use threshold jurisdictional doctrines to complicate that issue. Would anyone have discussed standing or jurisdiction had this case been brought in state court? Then it should not be different in federal court.

Also, note, again, the defensive context in which the First Amendment was raised and judicially resolved. Paintiffs sued for damages, the protesters raised their First Amendment rights as a defense, and in agreeing with the protesters on the First Amendment question, the court dismissed the lawsuit. How is that not an "ordinary mechanism" or the "established process" of judicial review?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 17, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

US seeks emergency TRO against SB8 (Updated)

Motion here. The piece I find interesting begins around p. 24, in which DOJ argues, in essence, that § 1983 and Ex parte Young preempt a law such as this. Section 1983 reflects a congressional choice to make federal civil rights litigation, including for injunctions, the preferred mechanism for litigating constitutional rights, thereby making offensive litigation the preferred posture for constitutional litigation.

I am not sure that is true. As I have been arguing here, many contexts force rights-holders into a defensive posture, outside of federal court. Sometimes those contexts come from Congress, such as the Anti-Injunction Act, or the courts, such as Younger. Sometimes that comes from states, such as in the creation of tort and contract law. The brief relies on Patsy v. Board of Regents, which held that a state cannot impose an admnistrative-exhaustion requirement on a public employee as a precondition to bringing a § 1983 action. But four years later the Court held that Younger applied to state administrative enforcement proceedings--that is, a rights0holder must defend the state administrative proceeding and appeal through the state system to SCOTUS, not run to district court. So federal court is not always paramount.

The brief repeats the refrain that SB8 thwarts "ordinary mechanisms of judicial review" or the "established process of judicial review." When did state courts, with SCOTUS review, cease to be an ordinary mechanism of judicial review? And is DOJ willing to follow that idea where it leads, so that an offensive option must be available in all cases, except perhaps where Congress creates the limits on § 1983? Must there be some mechanism for pre-enforcement challenges to constitutionally defective tort claims?

Finally, seems impossible to square this rhetoric with the limited scope of constitutional litigation. Imagine that SB8 followed California's prior consumer-protection law at issue in Nike v. Kasky, which allowed enforcement by "any person" regardless of injury as well as by governments and officials. A pre-enforcement EPY action would have been possible. But the injunction from that EPY action would have bound the executive, not the potential "any person." He would have been able to sue and perhaps win a state-court action, at least prior to the establishment of binding SCOTUS precedent. Same thing here. Some state-court actions would be possible and some providers would still have to defend in state court. They would have some precedent. But state courts are not bound by non-SCOTUS federal precedent unless they choose to be.

This is more complicated than the DOJ rhetoric acknowledges.

Update: The district court set a hearing for October 1. This fast-tracks the case. While framed as a motion for a TRO, the resulting order will be deemed a grant or denial preliminary injunction and immediately appealable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 15, 2021 at 03:16 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

SB8 op-ed

Rocky and I have an op-ed in California's Daily Journal on SB8, a mini version of our paper and my many posts here and at the VC.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 14, 2021 at 01:28 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 13, 2021

Retroactive enforcement of zombie laws

Michael Dorf explores whether, if Roe and Casey are overruled, people can be sanctioned (criminally or civilly a la SB8) under reanimated zombie laws for abortions performed in violation of state law but while Roe and Casey rendered those laws unenforceable. Dorf discusses cases considering whether a person can be sanctioned for conduct performed while protected by a preliminary injunction and while litigation is ongoing.

I did not discuss this issue in my article, which focuses more on what a zombie is and how they work in the moment. I wish i had, because it is an important future consideration. I agree with Mike that it would be fundamentally unfair to punish someone for conduct that violated the statute but was taken under the cloak of judicial precedent authorizing the conduct. But the case law considering conduct taken during litigation and under the protection of a preliminary injunction does not provide the relevant guidance.

The problem is that injunctions do not create most zombie laws. Many zombie laws have never been the target of litigation; they are laws from Jurisdiction B rendered judicially unenforceable by a decision involving a similar or identical law from Jurisdiction A. (This is the case with the law in which Fifth Circuit Judge Gregg Costa coined the term). Or they are distinct laws, different from the ones declared invalid in prior litigation, but raising the same constitutional objections. Many constitutional opinions create zombies but do not issue an injunction--they arise from defensive litigation and the judgment dismisses the enforcement action. (For example, no court enjoined Texas from enforcing its flag-desecration law; SCOTUS dismissed a prosecution against Gregory Lee Johnson. The same with Connecticut's contraception ban and the prosecution of Estelle Griswold). If the zombie was established in a case enjoining enforcement, the injunction is (or should be) limited to stopping enforcement against the plaintiffs to that action. Non-enforcement beyond the parties is a product of precedent, not the injunction.

Jonathan Mitchell in Writ-of-Erasure Fallacy has a different take. Judicial precedent involves a policy of judicial non-enforcement, no different from an executive policy of non-enforcement. (I would expound to say that judicial departmentalism makes the latter into the former--the executive choice not to enforce out of knowledge that it will lose in court reflects a policy choice). An executive non-enforcement policy would not provide a reliance defense to a subsequent enforcement (as Griswold demonstrates). It follows, Mitchell argues, that neither should a judicial non-enforcement policy.

The answer to this question requires a theory of judicial precedent and its effects on the public. Under judicial departmentalism, it binds courts but does not bind executives. How does that affect the public, its choices, and its subsequent exposure for those choices? And how does that further fundamental fairness and due process?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 13, 2021 at 10:11 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Universal injunctions are back, baby

I predicted that, with the change of presidential administrations, Republicans and conservative activists would discover that universal injunctions are permissible and essential to the rule of law. I did not know what would trigger the new arguments. Now we do.

Litigation is on the horizon challenging the coming OSHA vaccine mandate. I can hear it now.: "It is not enough to stop the government from requiring the plaintiff to get vaccinated. The mandate applies to all employees across the country. If it is unconstitutional to make A get vaccinated, how can it be constitutional to make B get vaccinated. That violates the rule of law. Federal law must be uniform."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 11, 2021 at 11:02 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 10, 2021

5th Circuit allows appeal in SB8 case

The 5th Circuit denied motions to dismiss the appeals and stayed the district court proceedings in the WWH SB8 case. The court of appeals had jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine over the state officials'  claims because all were denied 11th Amendment immunity when the district court found that Ex Parte Young claims could proceed against them despite their not being proper defendants. The court had pendent appeallate jurisdiction over the appeal by Mark Lee Dickson, because the claims against him are inextricably intertwined with the claims against the judges and clerks. A stay was proper because the defendants were likely to succeed on their appeal, because they are not proper defendants under SB8.

On the likelihood of success, there is some language in the order that will help with the paper. The court labeled the claims against judges as "specious," citing Ex Parte Young and cases from the Fifth Circuit and other courts to make the argument we have been making--judges acting in an adjudicatory capacity are not proper defendants in lawsuits challenging the constitutional validity of a law, as the judges (and the clerks who accept pleadings) are "disinterested neutrals" engaging in adjudication rather than enforcement. The court cast doubt on the "indirect enforcement" claims against executive officials. Rocky and I argue that this could work, although the remedy would be limited to providers and licensing proceedings, doing nothing to stop private lawsuits. But the court read SB8's no-enforcement provision to bar any enforcement based on any SB8 violations.

I think the court was wrong about the Dickson. Pendent appellate jurisdiction is supposed to be limited to situations in which resolution of the COD issue resolves the PAJ issue. For example, the first prong of qualified immunity (violation of a right) is inextricably intertwined with the violation prong of municipal liability. But that is not true of the claims against the judges/clerks and Dickson. The issue as to the judges is whether they are proper Ex Parte Young defendants; the issue as to Dickson is whether he intends to bring suit. I guess if the judges are proper defendants and can be enjoined then Dickson cannot pursue his claims. But the propriety of the injunction is not on this appeal, only whether they can be defendants. Pendent appellate jurisdiction is problematic in extending COD beyond a "narrow class of cases." This proves the point.

I know this is bad for abortion rights and for women needing reproductive-health services in Texas. And I accept Andy Koppelman's argument that it would be bad for constitutional rights if this type of law proliferates. But, for better or worse, procedurally the court is correct.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 10, 2021 at 09:57 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Guest stint at Volokh Conspiracy

Rocky and I will be guest-blogging about our SB8 article (now forthcoming in American University Law Review but very much a work in progress) at the Volokh Conspiracy over the next week. Our first post is here.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 10, 2021 at 01:53 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Demanding Ivermectin--what legal right?

Several state trial courts have entered TROs compelling hospitals to give patients Ivermectin, despite the view of the hospitals and staff doctors that it is in inappropriate treatment.

These suits have bothered me because I could not figure out the cause of action or legal right being asserted. What legal right did a patient have to a particular treatment from a doctor contrary to the doctor's best judgment, to say nothing of a right that would allow the court to compel that treatment. A doctor who refused a particular treatment, involving an unapproved use of a drug, could not be liable for malpractice so long as his treatment was otherwise within the ordinary standard of care. So how could the court order treatment that a doctor would not be liable for failing to provide. It turns out, none, according to an attorney at Reed Smith.

My guess is that something like the following happened: The court focused entirely on the irreparable harm to an ill patient who might die without what some regard (wrongly, but well . . .) as a life-saving treatment and the high burden on the plaintiff in the balance of equities. That overcame what should have been an incredibly small likelihood of success on the merits, since there was no legal right to enforce and thus no right on which to succeed.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 9, 2021 at 07:52 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

US v. Texas

Filed in the Western District of Texas. I have no idea whether this overcomes the problems that, in my mind, plague individual suits--no state official or person working for the state enforces this law. Therefore there is neither traceability nor redressability in standing terms and no constitutional violation in merits terms (since the law, apart from enforcement, does not violate rights). Paragraph 8 defines Texas as including "all of its officers, employees, and agents, including private parties who would bring suit under S.B. 8," contemplating every person who might sue, even if not imminent. Will that work?

There has been so much scrambling at the expense of the simple (if not ideal) solution--violate the law, get sued, defend in state court, appeal to SCOTUS. The prevailing theme is that this is insufficient. Paragraph 4 of the complaint insists that the law has thwarted "traditional mechanisms of federal judicial review," while ¶ 15 describes Texas attempting "to strip its own citizens of the ability to invoke the power of the federal courts to vindicate their rights," But how is defending in state court and appealing to SCOTUS not a traditional mechanism of federal judicial review According to a study by Arthur Hellman, prior to the mid-'70s most judicial review occurred this way; the shift to more offensive litigation happened towards the end of that decade. And if having to litigate federal issues in state court strips citizens of the ability to invoke federal courts, then the Well Pleaded Complaint Rule and Younger are constitutionally invalid. I don't think the government meant to say that.  My guess is that if this gambit fails, someone will violate the law and get sued, realizing that is the only way.

On the issue of whether the U.S. can, on behalf of its citizens, bring a broader lawsuit and obtain broader relief: I might be comfortable with that fact. The idea between having a combination of private and public enforcement of federal rights (especially civil rights) is that the federal government can pursue a broader suit (including by naming a sovereign) and get broader relief. But the inherent limits on government enforcement--resources, political will, competing demands--mean that the federal government will not and cannot puruse every case. They only go after the big ones--"more bang for the buck." And this is that singular huge issue that prompts government action.

Update: Will Baude offers a version of what my co-author calls a special standing solicitude for the United States. Unlike individuals, the U.S. can sue all of Texas and everyone who does anything with respect to a law--enacting, enforcing, adjudicating. So the U.S. can do more in that rare, big case it decides to pursue. I still believe this is a simple case in which simple defensive litigation is an option. But maybe this is the huge outlier case in which unusual government action is appropriate.

Another Update: I forgot to mention the strategic forum choice: This could have been filed in SCOTUS on original jurisdiction as a controversy between the United States and a state. At least Justices Thomas and Alito would have accepted the bill of complaint, as both are on record that SCOTUS' original jurisdiction is not discretionary. And like a suit challenging the validity of voting-age rules under the VRA, this would seem to be the type of uniquely huge national controversy involving state-law perogatives demanding speedy and original review by SCOTUS.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 9, 2021 at 04:29 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

(Update) Suing Texas State Senate Bill 8 Plaintiffs under Federal Law for Violations of Constitutional Rights

 Anthony Colangelo (SMU) will be publishing this post in SMU Law review, so we have pulled it off here. The post is available at SSRN.

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 7, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, September 06, 2021

Searching for Estelle Griswold and more SB8 developments

Two items on SB8 and the developing conversation.

A

Estelle Griswold has entered the public discussion around SB8. Griswold was the executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut who (along with Dr. C. Lee Buxton, a ynecologist)  violated Connecticut's ban on contraception, was prosecuted and convicted of aiding-and-abetting contraception, and appealed to SCOTUS for the opinion that established the constitutional right to reproductive privacy. Josh Blackman and David Garrow (Garrow's op-ed is behind a Houston Chronicle paywall, but the linked Faculty Lounge post quotes the key paragraphs) both tell Griswold's story and suggest that some abortion provider or advocate must follow suit in performing or aiding a post-heartbeat abortion.

But Garrow gets the process wrong, arguing that upon the lawsuit, Griswold's heir can file a federal suit against the judge assigned the case. I continue to reject this possibility because state judges are not the appropriate targets for offensive litigation designed to stop enforcement of a law. If they were, every media outlet or other defendant sued in state court for defamation would do what Garrow suggests (a defamation suit against protected speech violates the First Amendment as much as an SB8 suit violates the Fourteenth Amendment). That this never happens suggests something about the shape and structure of constitutional litigation. It is telling that Garrow tells Griswold's story, then describes a process different than the one she followed. She did not sue the state judge; she raised constitutional defenses in the criminal case, was convicted, and appealed the conviction to SCOTUS (which at the time had mandatory jurisdiction), which declared the law invalid and overturned the conviction. In other words, Griswold litigated the constitutional issue in a defensive posture in state court--exactly as we argue providers and advocates must do with SB8.

We cannot understand the procedural posture of Griswold without understanding Poe v. Ullman, four years earlier. Poe arose from several (state) declaratory judgment actions against the state AG challenging the validity of Connecticut's contraception ban. The Court held that the appeal was not ripe, because the plaintiffs could not show that the AG intended to immediately enforce the contraception laws, which had been the basis for one prosecution in more than 80 years. Justice Brennan concurred in the judgment to provide the fifth vote, arguing that the individual couples who brought these actions could not fear prosecution because they were not the real targets of the law. He argued that the "true controversy in this case is over the opening of birth-control clinics on a large scale; it is that which the State has prevented in the past, not the use of contraceptives by isolated and individual married couples." With offensive litigation off the table, defensive litigation became necessary, with the large-scale clinic violating the law and defending against the prosecution by arguing the law is invalid.

As in Connecticut in 1961, offensive litigation is off the table because there was no threat of public enforcement. The reason varies--no intent or history to enforce as opposed to no power to enforce; but we end in the same place. So the solution is defensive litigation--violate the law and assert the Constitution as a defense to liability.

B

On Thursday, President Biden called for a "whole-of-government effort" to find ways to protect reproductive rights as against SB8. On Monday, Merrick Garland announced that DOJ is exploring "all options to challenge Texas SB8 in order to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion." What might those efforts include? Garland points to the Free Access to Clinics Etrances (FACE) Act, which prohibits obstruction of access to clinics. This works to the extent SB8 bounty-hunters are interfering with clinics or threatening clinic workers and clients (and reports suggest that happening on the ground); it does not do much to stop anyone from filing an SB8 lawsuit.

Lawrence Tribe argues in the Washington Post that the U.S. should prosecute SB8 plaintiffs under § 242 (the criminal counterpart to § 1983). He is not alone in this idea. "Under color" means the same thing for both statutes and both can reach private actors. Most prosecutions, particularly those from the Civil Rights Era, involved private individuals conspiring with government officials, although I have found lower-court prosecutions of private actors under a traditional-public-function analysis. This option stands or falls with our argument for § 1983 suits against bounty-hunter plaintiffs--it works for both or it does not work for both.

The larger problem for a § 242 prosecution is that the defendant must "willfully subject[]" a person to a deprivation of rights. This imposes a specific-intent requirement--the defendant must have acted with the intent to deprive a person of their constitutionally protected rights. In the most common use of § 242 against police officers for excessive force, the government must show that the officer intended not to assault the victim, but to assault him so as to impose an unreasonable seizure; this forms part of the reason that § 242 cases are hard to prove and why DOJ prosecutes so few of them. The problem as to willfulness in these cases is that the SB8 plaintiff is acting pursuant to state law. His intent in filing suit is to recover remedies authorized by (presumptively valid) state law and perhaps to produce a change in the judicial interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, as opposed to depriving any person of their constitutional rights. Tribe's rhetoric aside, people bringing lawsuits in state court to enforce a state statute seems a distance from the Klan lynching people for trying to vote. The government would have to show that the criminal defendant/SB8 plaintiff knew the law could never be declared valid.*

[*] Section 242's willfulness requirement overlaps with the good-faith defense that an SB8 plaintiff would have to any § 1983 action.

The necessary move for the government would be an action for injunctive relief against the State of Texas to stop the entire government from enforcing the law. The problem is finding a law that authorizes such a suit. Tribe argues the source is the All Writs Act--an injunction is a writ and an injunction prohibiting Texas from enforcing its law on the grounds that it violates the Fourteenth Amendment would be a writ "necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law." Moreover, as someone argued on a listserv, a suit between the U.S. and a state is within SCOTUS' original jurisdiction, which might allow the U.S. to fast-track its challenge.

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 6, 2021 at 02:43 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 05, 2021

The judicial departmentalism of SB8

On an emergency episode of the Divided Arguments podcast, Will Baude and Dan Epps discuss SB8 and SCOTUS's refusal to stop enforcement pending litigation. Dan attempted to distinguish a longstanding law whose constitutional validity was newly called into doubt by a change in Court personnel and constitutional doctrine from a new law enacted in the face of contrary precedent and designed to change precedent against long-protected rights-holders. The former includes the handgun restriction declared invalid in McDonald or the abortion law declared invalid in Roe; the latter includes SB8 and other new abortion restriction. Rights-holders should be protected and free to exercise their rights during litigation. But that problem arises in the latter class but not former class. In the former, rights-holders have not been exercising their rights (which had not existed), so they lose nothing having to wait for resolution of litigation. In the latter, rights-holders have been exercising recognized constitutional rights for years, so they bear a risk of losing long-recognized rights in the interim.

It is an interesting distinction, especially for how we understand zombie laws.

The problem is that--regardless of the source, timing, or nature of the law--constitutional decisionmaking must follow regular judicial processes. That need not and cannot always entail offensive pre-enforcement litigation in which a federal court preliminarily enjoins enforcement pending the completion of litigation. And such offensive litigation remains limited to the parties to the action--any further compliance is voluntary.

It may be, as Dan argues, that the Court would have responded differently to a law prohibiting gun ownership and allowing "any person" to sue a gun owner. But the Court's inconsistency (hypocrisy?) should not obscure the procedural rules. The answer is that the Court should act appropriately as to the guns law, not that we should urge the Court to act inappropriately as to the abortion law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 5, 2021 at 02:14 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Stay (the SB8 judgment) just a little bit longer

My recurring argument around SB8 is that the statute does not eliminate judicial review of SB8's substantive provisions, it channels it into a defensive posture in state court (with SCOTUS review at the end). Providers and advocates reject that because it requires them to violate the law, get sued, and risk liability. But this reflects two distinct concerns: Incurring ultimate liability because SCOTUS rules against them at the end of the day and having to satisfy and comply with a judgment before they have an opportunity to fully litigate the issues.

But state procedures in the defensive action address that by allowing courts to stay judgments or orders pending appeal. That is, imagine the state court rules in favor of Billy Bob and against Whole Women's Health and awards statutory damages, attorney's fees, and enjoins WWH from future prohibited abortions. The state court can stay that judgment pending review, preventing the plaintiffs from collecting damages or enforcing the injunction until appellate review is complete. A stay seems appropriate here, given the constitutional uncertainty, the unique procedural posture of these cases, and the irreparable harm to the defendant if they must comply with this judgment immediately. One member of the ConLawProf listserv suggested that the SCOTUS majority could have alleviated some of the shouting over its refusal to stay or enjoin by including a sentence saying they expect state courts would issue such stays in any enforcement proceeding.

There is precedent for this. After the Alabama trial court issued a $ 500,000 judgment against The Times and four civil-rights leader defendants, all defendants moved for a new trial and The Times asked for and received a continuance (essentially, a stay of the judgment), so Sullivan never began collecting against them. The individuals never asked for that stay, so Sullivan went after Ralph Abernathy's assets. The point is that providers can avoid paying on any loss until litigation is complete. If the loss is affirmed because SCOTUS declares SB8 valid, the concern now is about the substantive right, not the process.

There is a third problem for providers--having to defend dozes or hundreds of such suits. But there is a possible solution to that. Given that every SB8 action involves the same conduct and raises the same issues (state standing and substantive invalidity), there is a good argument that the courts in cases 2-200 should, in their discretion, stay those cases awaiting the outcome of the one "test" case.

This is not perfect by any means. But it undermines the complaint that judicial review is impossible or that it requires providers or advocates to place themselves in irreparable jeopardy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 4, 2021 at 10:32 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 03, 2021

JOTWELL: Carroll on Sabbeth & Steinberg on gender and the right to counsel

The new Courts Law essay comes from Maureen Carroll (Michigan) reviewing Kathryn A. Sabbeth & Jessica Steinberg, The Gender of Gideon (forthcoming UCLA L. Rev), which considers how the Court has rejected a civil right to counsel in cases involving women litigants and gendered contexts.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 3, 2021 at 12:53 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Some responses to Somin on SB8

Ilya Somin offers some thoughts on SB8 and the Court's decision to allow enforcement pending litigation.

Somin argues rejecting current standing and injunction rules in favor of a "general injunction" precluding enforcement of that law by anyone who might otherwise be in a position to undertake that task. In an email, Somin clarifies that the target defendant in the lawsuit would be the government entity that created the law (a further rejection of current sovereign immunity rules). This is an intriguing idea. I favor simplifying constitutional litigation by making the government the target defendant. And I do not like standing rules as they exist as jurisdictional limitations. I am not quite ready to dissaggregate judicial review and remedy from actual or threatened enforcement of the law by someone, even if the government is ultimately "responsible." We still do not have that.

Somin rejects the criticism that SB8 unleashes "vigilantes," because many laws use private enforcement. "The troubling aspect of SB 8 is not the use of private enforcement, as such, but the resort to it as a mechanism for evading judicial review." But SB8 does not evade judicial review, as much as it channels judicial review into a defensive posture. That is unusual for most statutory regimes (e.g., environment and civil rights law), which combine public and private enforcement, leaving a government official to sue for injunctive relief. But it is not unusual for tort regimes (e.g., defamation), in which constitutional challenges to liability must be made on defense. Yes, that has a chilling effect in the interim. But the only way around that chilling effect is to say that pre-enforcement offensive litigation is constitutionally required--and I see no reason for that to be the case.

Somin's third issue is ingenious. He argues that leading pro-choice organizations should commit to providing legal representation and to cover any damages or fees awarded, thereby incentivizing providers  to continue providing services. The prospect of providers being able to defend themselves may deter Billy Bob from filing suit. And I would add that the legal representation could include suing Billy Bob in federal court, further deterring him from filing suit. This is a fascinating idea that we will try to work into the paper.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 3, 2021 at 12:22 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 02, 2021

SCOTUS denies interim relief in SB8 litigation (Updated)

SCOTUS denied interim relief in the SB8 litigation, emphasizing the uncertainty of whether there is a proper defendant in the case. The Chief, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented. I will have some thoughts once I get out of class.

Update: OK, done with class. I actually discussed this in Fed Courts, something I ordinarily don't do--we have not gotten to standing or EPY yet, although we were in the middle of SCOTUS review of state courts and I was about to talk a bit about the shadow docket. It was a pretty good discussion. I think I will use this law and this case as a case-study when we come back to later topics.

Thoughts on the order:

• Justice Sotomayor offers some judicial supremacy, calling the law "a breathtaking act of defiance--of the Constitution, of this Court's precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas." She is 1/3 right--it defies the Court's precedents. But I presume the Texas legislature believed the law was valid under its reading of the Constitution, under which women do not have a right to seek abortions. Agree or disagree with that position, but it is an interpretation of the Constitution that the Texas legislature is entitled to make, if it wants to live with the consequences of being wrong about what the Court will do.

• I think the procedural discussion reduces to this question: Is Ex Parte Young/pre-enforcement offensive litigation required by the Constitution. Breyer cites Marbury for the proposition that when a right in invaded, the law provides "'a legal remedy by suit or action at law." This is true when the right is invaded outside of court--defaming me, hitting me with a car, or not giving me my commission. But here the right is invaded inside court, when someone attempts to enforce a law against me. In that case, I have a legal remedy in the form of a defense. If that is not sufficient, then Younger, limitations on habeas, and other doctrines that channel certain federal issues into defensive state-court litigation are invalid. Maybe that is true, but I do not know that Breyer is going that far.

• The related problem is whether the existence of a law equals a constitutional violation. Again, I think Breyer assumes it does. Which explains his demand for offensive litigation--the "injury" is the existence of the law, so there must be an offensive remedy. But if the existence is not a violation until enforcement, it does not work.

• Breyer says a case could proceed against "those particularly likely to exercise the delegated powers." This is correct. The problem is no such person has been identified. When has has been, I think a § 1983 action can proceed, including enjoining any pending state proceeding. At the same time, that does not really help--even if WWH identified likely enforcers and got interim relief against them, that interim relief cannot stop anyone else from enforcing in the interim. Not sure Breyer recognized that.

Michael Dorf has a good post and discussion on some issues.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 2, 2021 at 06:53 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (15)